Five Fairfax County employes -- including Sheriff James M. Swinson and Sheriff-elect M. Wayne Huggins -- have reached and undisclosed out-of-court settlement with the estate of a woman who died in the county jail last year.
The settlement came midway in the trial of a $2 million lawsuit that the family of Phyllis Sanders had filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria against the county, the five workers, and a state policeman over the 25-year-old woman's death. The family accused the officials of wanton disregard for Sanders' health the night she died.
The woman died in the jail July 22, 1978, after having been place in solitary confinement following her arrest on speeding charges. According to court papers and testimony, she had vomited, fainted, lost bladder control, and exhibited symptoms consistent with brain damage prior to her death.
The only medication she received was two aspirins, according to court papers.
Swinson, whose administration of the county jail has provoked much controversy, declined yesterday to disclose terms of the settlement. He accused the news media of having exaggerated the importance of the lawsuit. "It seemed like to me it [the case] was played up a whole lot. They [the media] made a mountain out of a molehill, as usual."
Huggins, who is Swinson's chief deputy and his elected successor, could not be reached for comment.
District Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr. dismissed Fairfax County as a defendant in the suite on Tuesday, and accepted without comment the settlement made by Swinson, Huggins, sheriff's deputies Carolyn Reid and Sylvie Dyer, and county medic John Land.
The jury in the case yesterday began deliberating a verdict against the remaining defendant, State Trooper Dennis Bowden.
The jury was sent home last night after failing to reach a verdict. It will resume deliberations this morning.
The suit has accused the defendants of a conspiracy to "withhold and destroy" evidence relating to Sanders' death. In a deposition made in the case, Huggins said he had cleaned the floor of Sanders' cell after her death but before police investigators had examined the scene. Huggins defended his actions by saying, "I am the police . . . I was the investigating officer."